Winston-Salem Journal (Winston Salem, NC)
The six so-called "Downing Street Memos" written by aides to British Prime Minister Tony Blair don't contain much new information regarding President Bush's early Iraq policies. But they add credibility to charges that Bush decided first to invade and then fashioned evidence and arguments for doing so.
The memos were leaked to British journalists in fall 2004, but they received little attention, except from anti-war activists, until recently. That is because they mostly repeat much of what the press had already reported and what administration critics, such as Richard Clarke, a former National Security Council counter-terrorism official, had said.
That is, they indicate that Bush was intent on war with Iraq as early as the hours immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. They show that the administration and Blair's government desperately sought a rationale for the war they had decided upon, bouncing from "regime change," to phantom ties between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida, and, finally, to worries about weapons of mass destruction. Finally, the memos also reveal serious British concerns about a lack of postwar planning by their American allies.
Even if the memos duplicate information long public, they are enormously important for several reasons.
They come from outside the American political system. These documents were not written by people who can be dismissed as disgruntled former aides or partisan Democrats. They were written by the president's most important international ally, a British government searching for ways to support Bush's decision to go to war. These are the words of Bush's friends, not his enemies.
The memos are reaching Americans at a time when they are not focused on whom they want to be their next president. The choice of a president involves decisions on many issues. So, many Americans who were concerned about other issues last year, or who had already decided to vote for Bush, were not likely to believe in, or focus on, the Iraq war charges when they arose. Now the memos raise the same issues again when the question is much simpler: Did Bush cook the evidence to justify the conclusion he'd already made?
Finally, the memos come as the American people grow less supportive of the war and, therefore, more willing to consider evidence that the administration did not build its case for war honestly and that it botched the war's planning.
There's nothing new in the Downing Street memos, but Americans who have refused to believe similar charges should approach them with an open mind. They are part of a strong, emerging case that the president was intent on war long before he found good justification to wage it.